Destiny of the Doctor: Smoke and MirrorsBookmark and Share

Monday, 6 May 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Destiny of the Doctor: Smoke and Mirrors
Released by AudioGo
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Steve Lyons
Directed by John Ainsworth
Released: May 2013
This review is based on the CD release from AudioGo and may contain minor spoilers.

“Number Five- oh, I remember being you. So young, so breathless with energy, come to think of it, a bit grumpy too, a bit frowny, a bit worried about not being listened to...”

Here we are, then - halfway out of the dark. Well, to be fair that paints a rather pessimistic visage of the Destiny Of The Doctor 50th Anniversary range from AudioGo, which so far has been nothing short of spectacular. Sure, the range has had its peaks and troughs just as any ongoing monthly audio series would, but above all there’ve been a number of compelling plot arc elements making each new instalment well worth a listen. Does the fifth entry, Smoke And Mirrors, follow the tradition of keeping in tune soundly with the tone of its respective era? Without a shadow of a doubt, once again the Doctor-era in question- here the Peter Davison years - has been represented magnificently here, with much of the wonder for the Fifth Doctor waiting to be found across the planet Earth rather than always in the stars as his immediate predecessor would wager. Peter Davison remains perhaps this reviewer’s most treasured classic Doctor, and thus to see his era on the show done such justice here is a truly heart-warming experience (to the ears, in this case!).

That Janet Fielding joins AudioGo for the ride this time around certainly helps in this respect. Janet’s Tegan was always a feisty one, her Australian accent and outspoken nature bearing an influence even today in the realms of Doctor Who- we only need look to that oh-so-nostalgic throwaway reference to the character in Saturday’s The Crimson Horror for proof of that. It’s no easy task for Janet to inhabit the roles of Davison’s Doctor, Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa, Matthew Waterhouse’s Adric and of course her own companion character, so it’s testament to her ability as a vocal actress that such a feat appears, at least on the surface, to have been pulled off with ease and flair. It will be difficult for fans of the Davison years not to feel themselves being immersed once again in the days of cricket bats, battles of wits against Anthony Ainley’s Master and the immense physicality which the new lead brought to the role.

Unsurprisingly, in the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, writer Steve Lyons notes that there often wasn’t a ‘definitive’ tone to the Davison era, making the placement of Smoke And Mirrors in non-chronological season terms a little more difficult. Indeed, the excursion that the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Adric make to see none other than Mr Harry Houdini in 1920s England in many ways feels more befitting of the Season 19 days of The Visitation and Black Orchid than it does Season 21’s Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani. All the same, the interaction between the leads of the time with Tim Beckmann’s sly Houdini feels spot on in terms of replicating what we might have seen had this story been broadcast on BBC1 back in the ‘80s. There are effective layers of intrigue and fantastical mystery to each element of the tale, not always explained yet still feasible within the science-fiction genre, as has always been the case for even the most whimsical Who outings.

That said, despite the tonal and cast strengths of this fifth entry, there are one or two notable shortcomings. Whereas last month’s Babblesphere managed to provide a innovative satirical plot on top of its era-accurate representations, it feels as if one or two of the ambitious setpieces boasted in this particular storyline would have been better suited in a visual form whereby the listener/viewer was able to feel emphatically the tension and thrills of certain setpieces, instead of simply being left to the imagination in instances where even the classic series’ occasionally ropey CGI might have better served proceedings. It’s more of an overall gripe that can arise with the AudioGo franchise as a whole in terms of what we seen in Doctor Who’s televised adventures on a weekly basis, yet in the case of Smoke And Mirrors it still proves to be a point of ‘failure’ significant enough to warrant highlighting before fans race to stores expecting an audio tour de force which bests all of its on-screen rivals.

In addition, while this flaw appears to be a common point of irritance as the arc of Destiny progresses, it’s important to note that the latest fleeting cameo from Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor (voiced by the lead, Janet here, as always) still leaves more than a little to be desired. While it’s clear that November’s The Time Machine should, with luck, provide a satisfying resolution to the requests that our current incarnation of the Time Lord is making to his former selves, for now despite the variety of manifestations the character uses to communicate, there’s a lingering sense of repetition about it all. With any luck, that the Sixth Doctor is called upon in next month’s entry Trouble In Paradise by his future self to investigate a mystery should provide a different spin on proceedings, for now it’s impossible to call the standard deviation arc scene anything more than a disjointed distraction in the context of Smoke And Mirrors.

This much is clear of Destiny of the Doctor from what we’ve heard so far, though: short of any disasters in the range from here on out, this is a range that’s sure to be remembered as a fitting tribute to Doctor Who in the midst of its 50th Anniversary. Working in tandem with the infinite number of books, eBooks, classic DVDs, new DVD boxsets, audio dramas, Proms, conventions, docu-dramas, Culture Show tributes, Pointless editions, board games and other merchandise coming our way this year, not to mention the blockbuster season of new episodes we’re currently watching and the promise of two truly spectacular Anniversary and Christmas Specials to round off the year, Destiny seems to be skilfully blending together all of the components which have made this sci-fi legend such a hit over the past half-century. Halfway out of the dark, then? Nope- we’re simply halfway into the light, and things can only keep getting brighter from here on out…




The Visitation SE (DVD)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 May 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Visitation SE
Written by Eric Saward
Directed by Peter Moffatt
Broadcast on BBC1: 15 - 23 Feb 1982
DVD release: 6 May(R2), 14 May (R1)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

The Visitation falls just a couple of stories before the return of the Cybermen turned me into a fully-fledged fan (as opposed to a regular watcher), but it was certainly a strong enough tale to keep my attention from its opening moments in a cosy Manor House to the destruction of central London at its denouement. Coupled with a striking monster, android, and the flamboyant Richard Mace, it remains one of my favourite stories from that era!

"Well they've certainly let the grass grow since I was last there!"

It's time to take Tegan home, but with the reliability of the TARDIS being what it is, they arrive some 300+ years too early much to the air hostess's irritation. Once everybody's calmed down, a little exploration is called for, but unsurprisingly leads them into trouble with locals, and it is only their meeting with thespian turned highwayman Richard Mace that gets them out of the tricky situation. Mace explains about plague fears, but then the description of a comet seen some months previously and also of alien artefacts found in a barn engages the Doctor's interest ... and as curiousity draws in the cat, the time travellers become embroiled with the desperate attempts by a group of escaped Terileptil prisoners to seize control of the planet through genocide via their own enhanced plague ...

Though fourth broadcast, The Visitation was Peter Davison's second story to be produced. At the time it was reported that the recording order was to enable the new Doctor to settle into his role, but as the production notes point out it was a rather more mundane reason in that the opening story simply wasn't ready! As a result, watching the credits can be a confusing affair with who is responsible for what, with this story seeing the actual first contribution to the series by Eric Saward as a writer before assuming the shackles of script editor even though he's credited as such earlier in the season - I tend to feel that this story is actually one of his greatest triumphs, perhaps because he had yet to be encumbered with overall responsibility for scripts. Here we get a simple, progressive tale that takes us from the initial encounters above through to the eventual besting of the Terileptils and the accidental start of a Great Fire ...

In later years there was to be a lot of criticism over the apparent rampant continuity (and associated errors) within the JNT era, and the first 'biggie' rears its head with the above Fire - though as this clash is with a throwaway line from the Doctor at the tail end of Pyramids of Mars I think it is forgiveable at this stage! However, producer John Nathan-Turner was already attempting to establish a sense of narrative continuity in the series in a way vaguely reminiscent of the early adventures of the First Doctor, though it did have a tendency to feel shoe-horned in rather than natural (something Saward complained about for this story, though he was just as guilty later on!). So here we have the Doctor remonstrating Adric over the TSS machine, and Tegan trying to explain her violation by the Mara in their previous adventure on Deva Loka - though with the out-of-sequence filming of Davison's early stories, Kinda was filmed afterwards (and leading to Janet Fielding pronouncing Mara differently here!). Later, we have the Doctor exclaiming "Not again!" when he's about to have his head chopped off at the end of episode two, a reference to it almost happening to him in Four To Doomsday (though this was added by Davison himself!).

The story introduces the aforementioned Terileptils, and though we only meet a nefarious section of their society they come across as an interesting race, and its a shame they never returned to the show (except via a reference in The Awakening. Also making an appearance is one of their androids, which is a great design (highlighting the Terileptils' eye for beauty), but was revealed way too early in the story in my view. I've always enjoyed plots that seem to start off in one direction and then suddenly take off in another, unexpected one - here, I felt that the story would have been better served had the android not been seen breaking into the Manor at the start and thus revealing the sci-fi origins so quickly (this still annoys me about the film Predator with the spaceship at the start - without that introduction the film would have so much more surprising as the true enemy was revealed). Still, with Doctor Who being well-established as a science-fiction show it isn't so surprising that this element plays its hand so early on - doesn't mean I have to like it though!

Of the main cast members, Michael Robbins brings the flamboyant Richard Mace wonderfully to life, and in a parallel series could have made a fine foil for the Doctor in his travels in much the same way as Jamie complimented the Second Doctor. Mind you, we'd have had to thin out the TARDIS crew quite a bit, though Saward did a reasonable job in giving all of the principals something to do and something to say during The Visitation. Michael Melia does a fair job in bringing the Terileptil leader to life considering being stuck underneath the prosthetics - though Peter van Dissell had even more of a job in the android suit! The rest of the cast is okay, though they didn't really get that much to do, and the accents seem to meander a bit, especially considering the story was set in 17th Century Heathrow!

Other observations:
  • The almost throwaway opening with the family passing time together is quite poignant, and it's shame we lose them after just that single scene.
  • Tegan gets some of the best lines during the early scenes, with her comments over the Doctor's "incomprehensible answers", and how "a broken clock keeps better time than you do!"
  • There are good cliffhangers and bad cliffhangers, and then there are some that almost seem to be just 'cut here' - episode one certainly feels like that!
  • when Adric asks what nectar tastes like, Mace sounds like he's about to turn into Corporal Jones, cut off just as he was going to say "you stupid boy!".
  • It seems quite strange for Nyssa to operate the machine in her bedroom - but then in theory the console room exists in a state of temporal grace and so perhaps it needed to be away from there ... though Earthshock indicated it wasn't working any more - did Nyssa bugger it up, here?!!!
  • Another TARDIS feature to have been 'lost in the continuity 'fog' is the isomorphic control of the TARDIS as mentioned in Pyramids - all of the Doctor's newest companions have had a bash at it by this point - maybe this can be blamed on K9 after The Invasion of Time?

Overall, I found the story to be a straightforward, enjoyable tale, and one of the better stories from the Fifth Doctor's era. It was also quite a memorable story for me back when it was first broadcast, though it wasn't the realisation of the Terileptils or the android so much as the demise of the sonic screwdriver. As with the departure of K9 a year earlier, I can fully understand now the reasoning of removing it from the plot resolution portfolio (and that is ably demonstrated by its over-reliance in the modern series), but at the time I was just as sad to see the departure of "an old friend" as the Doctor was!

The DVD

As a Special Edition, it's the improvement to the sound and picture quality that would attract those who have bought the DVD release, and again it doesn't disappoint in that regard. It's the film sequences that really shine through, as the Restoration Team went back to the original 16mm film negatives and re-scanned the sequences, though the studio sequences also seem much crisper this time around too, as evidenced in these comparisons from the beginning of episode one:

2004/2013 DVD picture comparison: studio footage (Credit: BBC Worldwide) 2004/2013 DVD picture comparison: location footage (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

With regard to the film sequences, there had been some controversy over apparent loss of "sharpness", such as the brickwork in the above shot; Steve Roberts noted, however, that: "it looks like the neg is naturally sharp and the older print has had a bit of artificial sharpening added into it, that's all. Also, the presence of grain makes pictures appear to be sharper than they actually are, and the old sequences are definitely grainier!". Personally, I think its only with freeze-frames that the rendering might throw up such a discrepancy, it certainly isn't apparent when watching the action unfold normally!

As with other special editions, the production notes have been completely revised and brought up to date, with Nicholas Pegg guiding us through the production of the story. All the usual intricate details are present, such as the changes from script to screen, character notes, casting, etc., so if you want to know about the historical accuracies within the plot, or what magazine Nyssa happens to be reading in the TARDIS, here's the place to go!

The rest of Disc One contains the features that were included with the original release. In brief, there's the Film Trims, which show some of the retakes and cut bits from the story (and being the original unrestored footage acts as a good comparison against the sterling work on the episodes themselves). Directing Who sees director Peter Moffatt discuss his six engagements on the series from Full Circle through to The Two Doctors. Writing a Final Visitation features Eric Saward chatting about how he went about creating his television debut. Scoring The Visitation delves into the incidental music of The Visitation by Paddy Kingsland (for me, the best composer of this era of the show). Also included are the isolated music track and original highly amusing commentary by Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, with Peter Moffatt, plus the ubiquitous Photo Gallery.

Disc Two contains the new features of this release, with pride of place going to Grim Tales, the behind-the-scenes documentary for The Visitation. This takes the innovative approach of taking Peter, Janet and Sarah back to the locations of the story to reflect on the production of the show - Matthew was unavailable for the shoot, unfortunately, but as with the commentary those present made sure his "memorable moments" were remembered! The trio are instead joined by the anachronous Mark Strickson, who acts as steward as they try to navigate their way around the rather large Black Park - though fortunately also having a rather handy guide from yours truly (grin).

After the forest antics the group then travel by handy TARDIS to the location of the manor house (Tithe Barn), whose current owners discovered they had inherited the Doctor Who legacy when they purchased the property thanks to a copy of The Visitation being left behind. Along with the anecdotes of filming was a rather nice "Visitation Cake" which almost seemed a shame to eat ... not that it stopped them!

The relaxed, informal recollections were interspersed with illustrative clips, plus some more traditional interviews with production team members Eric Saward (writer), Ken Starkey (designer) and Carolyn Perry (make-up), talking about the more technical aspects of making the show. Plus. Michael Melia (the Terileptil leader) added his own anecdotes of being under layers of prosthetics!

All-in-all, this was a very enjoyable approach to the making of the show, ably abetted by the utilisation of the locations which played quite a substantial role in the story. Producer Russell Minton did a superb job in the presentation, and this this easy-going way of presentation is carried on into the producer's next feature on this disc, The Television Centre of the Universe. Here, Peter, Janet and Mark (no Sarah this time) reminisce over what made up a typical day filming Doctor Who at the 'heart' of the BBC as-was, 'supervised' by Blue Peter presenter Yvette Fielding.

The trio continue to regale with their anecdotes over their time recording the series, which for this feature loosely relate to the area of the BBC they have reached. So, at the car park there are tales of the excitement of watching Ronnie Corbett's attempts to park, how hit-and-miss it could be to actually get into TVC's car park in the first place, and how Mark shamelessly used Blue Peter as his excuse to get his dog Bramble in with him! Then, into Main Reception and the symbolic "handing of the key to the dressing room", followed by actually attempting to find it in the 'maze' of TVC and of course confronting the condition of the room once in! As with Grim Tales, there are anecdotes from others inserted along the way, with people such as AFM Sue Heddon talking about the dressing room 'dungeons' where there could be 30 artistes getting ready!

Next up is make-up, a place to hang-out it seems to get all the latest gossip. The quartet are joined by Carolyn Perry and discussed the happy atmosphere that existed back then - and how some of the senior make-up supervisors were to be avoided where possible! Inserts included fellow make-up artist Joan Stribling talking about the 'uniforms' they had to wear, and costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux on how Peter could be naughty with the polaroid camera. Other contributors included production assistant Jane Ashford on the TVC 'industry' and former DWM editor Richard Marson chatting about how you couldn't miss DW when 'in town'; plus, special mention to film traffic supervisor Neville Withers and his Jon Pertwee anecdote.

This was a wonderful feature, and continues the warm feeling about TVC that we've had of late with the 'last night' programming back in March and Marson's wonderful Tales of Television Centre last year. This is very much how I hope TVC will be remembered, and not marred by some of the recent incidents that have come to light and the press gleefully seized upon. Roll on, part two!

Also included on the disc is the next instalment of Doctor Who Forever!, The Apocalypse Element, explores Doctor Who's thriving adventures on audio. Kicking off with the vinyl releases of the original series, Nicholas Briggs unsurprisingly champions Genesis of the Daleks whilst Gary Rusell and Steve Cole discuss their fond memories of original adventure The Pescatons. There's also an honourable mention of that quintessential disco favourite, Doctor Who Sound Effects (injoke for convention-goers of many years ago!) - though from a completist point of view, where's the mention of the original TV Century 21 David Graham narrated release of the end of The Chase!

Of course, the primary focus of the documentary is on how Big Finish has gone from strength to strength over its humble beginnings in 1998 with adaptions of adventures starring Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield, the arrival of Doctor Who proper the following year with Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Peter Davison, then Paul McGann in 2001, and their successes with Dalek Empire, The Lost Stories and finally the arrival of the fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker in 2012. As usual, a variety of contributors chat about the range, including future series writers like Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss, Joseph Lidster, and Rob Shearman. plus the producers Gary Russell, David Richardson and not least the overall 'guardian' Jason Haigh-Ellery. Plus Russell T Davies chats about how the range kept the flame alight in the 'wilderness years' and how he then reciprocated in keeping that BF flame going in the turmoil of the series returning to television.

On the AudioGo side of the fence, Michael Stevens commented on how the narrated soundtracks and then the narrated Target novelisation have also proved popular, and on how they tempted Tom Baker back to Doctor Who with Hornets' Nest.

Overall, the feature is a little more serious than the previous instalments, but still very interesting to watch and a good overview of how the Doctor Who world is enhanced outside of the television series itself.

The disc is rounded off with the PDF files for Radio Times listings and the BBC Enterprises Sales Sheet, plus the Coming Soon which unlike with The Aztecs does introduces the next scheduled release!

Just to round of, I don't usually think about the menus themselves, but one thing I noticed about the clips used was that they seemed to be focussed on some of Matthew Waterhouse's lesser moments in the story ... pure coincidence I'm sure!

Conclusion

This is a fun story, as much of Season Nineteen turned out to be, and for those who aren't familiar with the Davison era is one of the stories that I'd recommend to get stuck in with, as there is little continuity baggage to worry about as the following years started to suffer from. For those who purchased it before, I'd certainly recommend the documentary as a great additional feature, and the enhanced clarity of the film sequences give the story a new lease of life.

Coming Soon...

The Doctor's attempts to regain his mastery over time and space go awry as he instead travels into a parallel universe, where friends become enemies in a world counting down to disaster in Inferno Special Edition




The Crimson HorrorBookmark and Share

Saturday, 4 May 2013 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn

Doctor Who - The Crimson Horror
Written by Mark Gatiss
Directed by Saul Metzstein
Broadcast on BBC One - 27 April 2013
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK broadcast of the episode.

In 1974, my great-grandmother died in the hospital where Mark Gatiss’s parents worked. This is not an accusation or a desperately morbid claim to association, but a partial explanation of why The Crimson Horror appealed greatly to my imagination. Mark has memorialised themes from the industrial history of northern England by fashioning them into a Doctor Who episode, and in a way which seeks to entertain wider audiences as well as exiles from the northern counties used to suspicious southrons stricken with alarm at their origins and wondering how an apparently civilised person can come from a place thought impossible to survive in without scissor grenades, limbo vapours triple-blast brain-splitters.

Twenty-first century Doctor Who has been so fixated with London that it’s taken it a long time to visit northern England. While Gatiss is from County Durham, like my family, the north which Vastra, Jenny and Strax set out to explore is an industrial landscape identified by caption as Yorkshire. The setting plays with stereotypes; this ‘northern’ town draws inspiration from originals outside northern England as well as from experiences specific to its apparent setting in the south Pennines. The name ‘Sweetville’ suggests – it turns out misleadingly – Bournville, the model village built by the Cadbury family roughly contemporaneously with this story, to house the workers in the chocolate factory at the heart of the development. The architecture of Sweetville belongs to an earlier period, being recorded in the 1830s model village of Bute Town in Caerphilly. Its nearest point of comparison in Yorkshire is probably Saltaire, begun in the 1850s by the cloth manufacturer Titus Salt. There, Salt sought to manage the lives of his employees more closely than would have been possible had they been living among workers for other employers and trades in Bradford where the Salt firm had been based. Their housing was supplied with gas for cooking and fresh running water and was more spacious and more hygienic than in the overcrowded Bradford where life expectancy was a little over twenty years. Salt prescribed sport and fruit and vegetable growing for his workforce and encouraged religiosity, both his own Congregationalism and Wesleyan Methodism being represented with churches in Saltaire. For Salt and his admirers, Saltaire was a patch of heaven on earth, but to critics such as the commentator on society and art John Ruskin, Saltaire reduced Salt’s workers to slavery. It’s presumably this of which Gatiss was thinking when he remarked to Doctor Who Magazine of "those sort of Victorian philanthropists, who made all these beautiful workers’ cottages and then ran them like dictators."

Poisoning was an occupational hazard of the nineteenth-century industrial worker. Sweetville, Mrs Gillyflower tells us offhandedly, is a match factory, even if it’s generally referred to in dialogue as a ‘mill’, a term usually reserved for flour grinding or cloth working establishments. Death from the Crimson Horror was at least a quicker fate than the slow death from skeletal deterioration and organ failure real match workers suffered from in the period; this was ‘phossy jaw’, the result of white phosphorus inhaled during the manufacturing process building up in the skeleton. The affected bone, when exposed, glowed green, just as alarming as a waxy, red-skinned corpse or the shuffling, stiffened, inarticulate Doctor would be if they were encountered in everyday life. The debt the realisation of the process owes to the petrification technique of Carry On Screaming accentuates the macabre quality of the allusion because the dismissive attitude of Mrs Gillyflower to her rejects is barely removed from the lack of responsibility several nineteenth-century employers felt towards those employees injured or killed in the course of their work.

Mark Gatiss has called Mrs Gillyflower “a proto-fascist”, but this simplifies the historical influences which have shaped her character. The industrial towns and colliery villages of the north of England were full of the churches, chapels and meeting-houses of religious denominations and sects. Religion did not just comfort the oppressed worker but offered the possibility of a transformed state on this earth in a way which struck fear into the establishment. It was not for nothing that some County Durham clergymen of the state Church of England had battlements on their vicarages and made sure their servants were armed. Waves of mass religious conversion and pledges to find a New Jerusalem on Earth occurred throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, but it was unusual (though not unheard of) for them to be led by women. Those women religious leaders there were tended also to come from impoverished backgrounds, like the workers they led, and new societies were more likely to be founded through emigration to North America than by mass murder. Mrs Gillyflower’s emphasis on physical perfection, however, recalls nineteenth-century anxieties about the physical enfeeblement of the industrial population, which paternalist entrepeneurs like Titus Salt sought to cure through sport and diet, but which by the end of the century Francis Galton argued could only be corrected through selective breeding of fitter human specimens. Mrs Gillyflower is an avowed eugenicist, seeking to preserve those subjects whose bodies can produce an antitoxin; her rocketry anticipates the Second World War associated in the western historical memory with eugenics’ short-term ascendancy over Europe.

The strength of The Crimson Horror isn’t found in how it flaunts its research, but how it deploys the elements it selects. It presents the viewer with a ‘Yorkshire 1893’ which is re-engineered to present what might be termed a ‘hyper-historical’ setting, where the manipulation of detail and the observation of period forms is more important than the strict accuracy of that detail and form in representing of how things actually were. One example is the scene in the interview queue where Jenny tries to persuade Abigail to distract the others while she disappears behind a locked door. Abigail eventually succumbs to bribery. Jenny offers her a guinea, represented by a dull coin. The guinea was a gold coin and had not been in circulation since 1816; though still used colloquially, the sum of money the term represented – twenty-one shillings – would most likely have been handed over in a purse. This would probably have seemed to the audience a disjuncture of word and image, so ‘guinea’ becomes a historically-coded term for a large sum of money. Perhaps the coin we see is a downpayment. The line also demonstrates that although Mrs Gillyflower’s revivalist rhetoric appeals to her recruits’ spiritual welfare, their concerns are inevitably material.

The use of place and date captions to establish the setting of a Doctor Who story might be a regrettably pedestrian convention, though here the caption helps fix the blend of source material from different time periods at the end of the nineteenth century, contemporaneous with The Snowmen. Successfully, the design of this caption draws on the place of the late nineteenth century in the popular memory, a time which has just slipped out of reach in terms of living recollection, but which haunts the present in faded advertisements painted on gable ends. This association helps disguise what looks like a modern garage. The choice of font – Copperplate Gothic Bold, or something close to it – is reminiscent of a typeface used on railway tickets of the period, as if the act of watching television is analogous to a train journey in the heyday of steam. Another striking piece of design is the jar under which the favoured preserved are kept in their houses; with bellows pumping away in the background the debt to Joseph Wright of Derby’s An Experiment with a Bird in the Air Pump is evident.

Within the narrative, it appears that the Paternoster gang travel from London to Sweetville by coach, presumably for reasons of privacy. The only failure of any substance is the running gag concerning Mr Thursday and his fainting at the sight successively of Vastra’s face, Strax’s appearance and the dematerialisation of the TARDIS. Given that Vastra’s veil doesn’t hide her Silurian features, the reaction is unconvincing. Strax, too, has previously been rationalised as ‘Turkish’ (neatly echoing Bloodaxe’s mishearing of ‘Sontaran’ as ‘Saracen’ in The Time Warrior) by Vastra’s Scotland Yard contact in a prelude to The Snowmen. The presence of Vastra and Strax in Victorian England requires not so much suspension of disbelief, as audience complicity with the conceit; Thursday’s repeated collapses are meant to show that this ploddingly unimaginative character can’t comprehend the situation, but instead make this heightened reality, which has already made clear that it is aware of its own absurdity, seem a little too self-satisfied.

Like the way it assembles a setting from a largely pre-Victorian model village location and allusions to historical events and people from over a century of the steam-powered industrial age, much of the imagery of The Crimson Horror is determinedly Neo-Victorian, putting nineteenth- or early-twentieth century technology or its trappings to anachronistic use. Jenny’s encounter with the giant gramophone horns, relaying the sounds of horrors elsewhere like electronic speakers, is one example. Another is Mrs Gillyflower’s rocket, its design somewhat in advance of late-nineteenth century technology, and hidden in plain sight within a chimney which in an age of smoking stacks, doesn’t emit any smoke. Vastra’s dismissal of optograms as scientifically impossible is the importation of a modern certainty; optography was the subject of serious research in the late nineteenth century and the possibility that one part of the spectrum at least could be retained on the retina, if only for a short period, fascinated several scientists and science fiction writers including Jules Verne, as this article shows. Less successful, perhaps, is the appearance of Thomas Thomas, whose formulaic directions may indeed send him far. The circular scars left on rejects of the process, together with the ambition of creating a superior caste, are perhaps nods to the process of Gordon Dahlquist’s The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters.

Mark Gatiss’s Doctor Who episodes have sometimes strained at the 45-minute format. The Idiot’s Lantern cut off a number of plot and character threads perfunctorily in order to hurry to a resolution. Victory of the Daleks felt as if it was apologising for not being able to build up the mystery of the Ironside Daleks more thoroughly, or to develop the threat of the new paradigm. With The Crimson Horror the problem is acknowledged and incorporated into the structure. The discovery of the crimson-dyed Doctor and his recovery allows the episode to present the highlights of ‘part one’ nested within the ‘part two’ which forms the bulk of the broadcast episode. The use of sepia tones and artificial film scratches in the memory sequence are another historical allusion, as in the 1890s Yorkshire was the base of several pioneers of filmmaking in Britain, but this flashback also hints at a CGIed world derived from old photographs of which Doctor Who, even with modern technology and budgets, can still only afford little.

This episode heavily trailed as a vehicle for Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling to work alongside each other, and their performances don’t disappoint. Despite a script which Mark Gatiss has claimed as his campest work, Rigg avoids overplaying an already inflated character, the sort of villain who knows theirs are “the wrong hands”, is entertained by the gap between their own moral certainties and those of the surrounding world, but doesn’t enjoy their own performance to the extent that they cease to be a credible threat. From a period when women were struggling for equality, Winifred Gillyflower at first appears to be an example of female advance, a prizewinning chemist who has stormed male bastions in science, industry and religion and who has also survived the brutality of a violent marriage. Instead, she is in thrall to a phallic leech, a reject from the Star Trek symbiont factory with the face of a Raxacoricofallipatorian, and wants to recreate the world in his image rather than her own.

If Winifred’s name alludes to Victorian nostalgia for the remote past, commemorating a seventh-century saint, Ada’s name is probably most widely associated with Ada, countess of Lovelace, mid-nineteenth century pioneer of computing, whose mother’s County Durham origins may also be relevant to this episode. If one is still looking for emotional cores to Doctor Who episodes, then one is to be found here in Ada’s transition to autonomy and escape from the persona created for her by her mother. Room isn’t made for a description of what the preservation process does to memory and identity, but as the active ‘preserved’ are compliant automatons, one might infer that Ada was left sightless and scarred and with gaps in her self-knowledge which she has relied on her mother to fill. Ada assumes maternal love exists, but Mrs Gillyflower only views her as a failed test subject; fanaticism and addiction to Mr Sweet’s “nectar” can’t absolve this temperance advocate from personal responsibility.

Ada’s violent reaction to learning of her mother’s betrayals is refreshing. Too often a tormented character will be placated with therapeutic words from the Doctor. Ada’s beating of her mother, coldness on knowing her fate, and spearing of the crawling worm making as fast an escape as it can from the scene, is dramatically credible and leaves the Doctor a temporarily ineffectual bystander. His plan to ‘return’ Mr Sweet to the Jurassic is meaningless given that Mr Sweet is a native of 1893. The despatch of Mrs Gillyflower and that of Mr Sweet offer potential difficulties to an early evening time slot, as both are on the borders of fantasy violence and realism. The coding of Strax as a comedic character prevented him from causing Mrs Gillyflower more direct damage than throwing her off balance. Though undoubtedly revenge helps the process of healing Ada’s psychological wounds, the camera is careful to show that no pleasure is taken in the brutality beyond the satisfaction that those who caused harm can no longer do so.

Fan audiences were primed for the mention of a “gobby Australian” whom the Doctor spent ages trying to return to Heathrow. If there is a nod to the themes of the fifth Doctor’s era, it is to family: one can lose one’s birth family, as Ada does and Tegan did, but one can become a self-reliant member of a new family. While the TARDIS family of the fifth Doctor’s era were probably stronger in the imagination of fan writers than they were on the screen (Russell T Davies’s critique of the failure of Time-Flight to build on the end of Earthshock, as expressed in Richard Marson’s JN-T, was certainly shared by others) something of what was hoped for can be seen in the Doctor’s present friendship network.

The Doctor’s awkward expressions of physical affection have become more accentuated in recent weeks and his slap from Jenny was a necessary corrective. The relationship between the Doctor and Clara is tending towards being framed in romantic terms, at least from Clara’s point of view – she doesn’t deny that he is her boyfriend – and Nightmare in Silver promises to put the Doctor and Clara in a quasi-parental role to Angie and Artie Maitland. There is dramatic potential here, but also a danger of going over ground which Doctor Who has already explored.

The Crimson Horror was a richly textured confection, but while full of performances which were at their worst solid, which is more than can be said for some of the current run, some of the icing should have been withheld to better serve the episode’s strengths. At times it was just a little too pleased with its own cleverness and didn’t know how to convey its pleasure with itself on these occasions to the audience. For all they dominate this review, allusions and references to other sources do not by themselves good Doctor Who make. The density of its references – and I’m sure I’ve not spotted or mentioned them all – could have happily filled a Doctor Who Confidential, a programme especially missed on these occasions. While I enjoyed it greatly I do wonder whether, like so many episodes this year, it needed more room to breathe and explain itself and develop the nature of the central threat. Brendan Patricks, doing his best with a double role held in uncertain regard by the script, turned up at the end to faint once more, perhaps not at the dematerialisation of the TARDIS but exhausted by his escape from wherever the resolution of the main plot had needed to park him. Nevertheless, The Crimson Horror was a largely successful satire on Victorian industry and philanthropy, even if the adventure elements of the episode were comparatively undernourished.